Uncut Magazine (05/2003), Five Go Mad
Uncut Magazine, May 2003 ----------------------------------------------------------- Return of the Mac Thanks to Pip and Les for posting this to the Ledge.
Five Go Mad
Rock's greatest soap opera, FLEETWOOD MAC went to hell and back to bring the world some of the most popular and most perfect, hard-centered easy listening music of all time. But it nearly cost them their sanity. And their lives....
By Nigel Williamson
AUGUST 7, 1987. Fleetwood Mac are enjoying a third burst of success after the Peter Green/“Albatross” years and Rumours heyday. Their new album, Tango In The Night has just topped the charts in Britain and America on its way to global sales that will eventually approach l0 million. But all is not well in the camp. When the band meets at Christine McVie's Hollywood home to resolve their differences, the atmosphere is venomous.
A row breaks out over Lindsey Buckingham's refusal to tour, and when former lover Stevie Nicks tries to remonstrate with him, the highly-strung guitarist explodes. "Get this bitch out of my way. And **** the lot of you" he screams, as he pushes her over the hood of his car and delivers a slap. Vowing never to speak to the band again, he drives off into the sunset with the parting shot, "You're a bunch of selfish bastards.”
Flash back more than a decade. You could be forgiven for thinking that the pinnacle of Fleetwood Mac's convoluted, incestuous, drug-fuelled, trash novel insanity had been reached in 1976 when they were recording Rumours. In fact, it was only the start of what was to become rock'n'roll's longest running real life soap opera.
The omens could not have been less propitious when the band went into the Record Plant studio in Sausalito, San Francisco. Their previous album, 1975's Fleetwood Mac, sat at the top of the US charts. But nobody knew if they could stay together long enough even to complete the follow up.
The torrid six-year romance between Nicks and Buckingham has recently ended in bitterness and rancour and the two are only speaking to each other to hurl insults and recriminations. John McVie and Christine McVie, married for eight years, are not speaking at all, except through the expensive lawyers negotiating their messy divorce. Mick Fleetwood, too, is going through a divorce of his own and is about to complicate matters further by embarking on an affair with Nicks.
Outside of being trapped in the same band and writing songs to each other, detailing every jealousy and betrayal in the emotional maelstrom they have created, the only common currency is the huge, velvet bag of cocaine which engineer Ken Caillat keeps under the mixing desk and which the band demands at regular intervals to 'refresh' themselves.
Yet out of this traumatically troubled and tangled web comes the best selling album of all time (at least until Michael Jackson cleans up with Thriller). Ultimately, Rumours will shift more than 25 million copies and set Fleetwood Mac up on millionaire's row for life, an amazing achievement for a band one with an entire pre history born out of the British '60s blues boom.
The phenomenal success of Rumours keeps Fleetwood Mac together, but it's against all rational judgment, and at a price. In the intervening decade the dysfunction and trauma they turned to such positive and creative effect on Rumours has gone from bad to worse. Much worse. With lifestyles that would not have been out of place on the set of Dallas or Dynasty and the most outrageous touring circus this side of Led Zeppelin, the band descends into a collective drink and drugs hell.
Excess of every kind is the order of the day. Nicks has an affair with Don Henley of The Eagles, falls offstage and checks into the Betty Ford Clinic for cocaine addiction. Then, on her release, she sinks into an even deeper and more debilitating dependency on the tranquilizer Klonopin and nearly dies all over again. John McVie has an alcohol-induced seizure and is busted at his Hawaii home with four and a half grams of pure cocaine and a collection of illegal firearms. Christine McVie has an affair with the band’s lighting director and then falls for doomed Beach Boys wild-man Dennis Wilson. By her own admission, it's taking a magnum of vintage Dora Perignon a day just for her to get by. Mick Fleetwood is busy blowing his millions on debauchery and is deep in his own brain frying self destruction, involving industrial quantities of cocaine washed down with bottles of brandy.
BY 1986,WHEN IT COMES to recording Tango In The Night after a four year lay off, the task of ensuring the record is not a complete disaster has fallen overwhelmingly on the intense and nervy figure of Buckingham. Nicks, little more than a sedated zombie, barely attends the year long sessions, and Buckingham is forced to doctor the tapes to kid the world into believing she is on songs that she has never even heard. A half-crazed Fleetwood spends much of the recording nodding out in a Winnebago parked outside Buckingham's home studio. Bass player John McVie only turns up when absolutely necessary to put down his basslines, while his ex-wife Christine, for whom he still carries a torch, views all the madness with increasing distaste.
Left almost single-handedly to fashion the album and having successfully delivered his less industrious colleagues yet another bank filling, career saving, multi-platinum winner, a frustrated Buckingham decides he has finally had enough. His colleagues are appalled. However out of it they may be, they're not too far gone to realise that, without their main musical focus, they're in trouble.
Throughout the summer of 1987, the rest of the band has attempted to twist his arm to join them on their forthcoming world tour. At one point, Buckingham's agreement appears to have been secured and a celebratory dinner is arranged. By that evening, he has changed his mind again and fails show up at the restaurant.
Tired of his vacillating, the rest of the band summon him to a final showdown at Christine McVie's house. When their pleading and cajoling continues to fall on deaf ears, the exchanges grow angrier. Finally, when Nicks intervenes, Buckingham snaps. Although the couple had broken up back in 1976, a decade's worth of pent-up emotion spews forth and Buckingham walks out on the band.
MORE THAN 15 YEARS LATER, Buckingham is back, rehearsing for a new stadium tour at Culver City Studios, Los Angeles, and with a new Fleetwood Mac studio album. Christine McVie has gone, having moved back to England to retire with her husband to a big house in Kent. Otherwise, it is the classic Fleetwood Mac line-up. Older and wiser and a little less volatile. But back with the same melodic and beguiling sound they perfected on albums such as Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.
And after years of being regarded as the enemy, it seems that Fleetwood Mac are cool again. "I think the intriguing thing to a lot of people is that there's never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after Rumours," said Courtney Love, who in the late 90's covered Stevie Nicks' cocaine-inspired "Gold Dust Woman". "Nobody's touched it."
Ex-Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan is another fan (in the mid-90's he recorded a cover version of "Landslide" from 1975's Fleetwood Mac). And when Uncut recently visited Tricky at his home in Venice Beach, California, even the dark one was playing Fleetwood Mac, proclaiming them to be "fucking brilliant.”
For Buckingham, Say You Will is the first Fleetwood Mac studio album he has been involved with since the fateful Tango in the Night, and although he disputes some of the details of the confrontation that resulted in his 1987 departure, he concedes euphemistically it was "not a happy day". Yet he regards the new album as a "vindication" of his walk-out. "If I hadn't left then, I wouldn't be in this place now," he reasons. "So it all makes sense in some way. That's part of the beauty of us being back together".
At 55, Buckingham seems far more relaxed and less intense than the character we met on Fleetwood Mac's 1997 reunion tour. Sitting cross-legged and relaxed on a couch at the Culver City Sound Stage rehearsal space in LA, he scratches his head and laughs a lot. When the band’s US publicist sticks her head around the door to say,” Five more minutes,” he replies, “Hey, 10, 15, whatever, it’s cool.”
"I'm now married and I have a four-and-a half-year-old son and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter," he explains. "I think all that calms you down in increments, without you even being aware of it. You get more balance and you feel like there's something greater than yourself in the scheme of things. I'm just happier. I spent quite a few years in emotional exile and that includes all my time in Fleetwood Mac, really."
There was never a time in the band when his relationship with Nicks wasn't characterised as "dysfunctional" and "denial", he admits with total candour. "That sounds strange when we split up so many years earlier. But most couples in that position don't carry on seeing each other all the time. Being in a band is like still living with someone. We weren't able to resolve things because I don't think we were focused enough even to know what needed to be resolved."
Even on the 1997 tour he feels there was still a "residue". Since then he gained a family of his own for the first time and has finally been able to move on. "And this time when we started again I found I really liked the chemistry of the band without the baggage we carried around for so long. We can acknowledge what happened. But we are different people."
Talking to Mick Fleetwood at the rehearsal studio where the band are preparing for their forthcoming tour, the drummer agrees. But he also says that the unique chemistry that created Rumours has not entirely dissipated. " There's an incredible amount of emotional investment outside of the music within this band. The vibration of what happened is still alive. It's not theatre, it's real," he adds, stretching his long frame across a couch, still the elegant English dandy.
"Christine has gone, but Stevie is surrounded by three men, two of whom she's had relationships with. This makes for an interesting copy. My friendship and absolute love for Stevie is still able to exist. She's my wife's best friend and we've all just come back from a vacation in Hawaii together. It's not corporate. It's still a powerful thing emotionally. There are areas for Stevie and Lindsey that are still sticky for them. But we've found a road map where this can happen.
TALKING TO NICKS, who seems animated and incredibly open, the Fleetwood Mac story is not so much soap opera as gothic romance. Either way, it's a tale in which she believed the final chapter had been written with the band's 1997 reunion tour and the subsequent departure of Christine McVie. "Not all the King's horses and all the King's men could put it back together," she sang on "Fall From Grace", from her 2001 solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La.
"Yes, that was totally about the band," she admits now. Yet she had no hesitation in signing on again when approached. "It's like the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace," she says. "That sounds a bit Wuthering Heights. But in a way it is. I don't think any of us could be in any other band."
Say You Will feature 18 tracks, nine written by Nicks and nine by Buckingham, who also produced (with assistance on some tracks by Rob Cavallo). "It's really like a Buckingham-Nicks record with the power trio backing," says Nicks. She admits to missing Christine McVie, who she hasn't seen in five years. The day after the Grammy awards in 1998 (where Fleetwood Mac had three nominations but went away empty-handed), McVie packed up, sold her house and car and left for Britain. "I'm not ungrateful to Hollywood but I've lived there for 28 years and I'm homesick" she told this writer shortly before the move. "I want to spend more time with my English family and open a restaurant." She hasn't been back to LA since.
"Chris did not enjoy the experience of being back on the road at all," Nicks says. "And I can understand why she left. She's now 59 and so I'm now the same age she was on that last 1997 tour. It's very hard on a woman to do this. But with her in the band we had a feminine power and I wish she'd stayed."
At 54, and even without make-up, it is still possible to see what it was that once made Nicks one of the most desirable women on the planet when she twisted and twirled her mystical way through "Rhiannon" in her trademark black lace and chiffon. Today, however, she's damaged her hip, and mounts the studio steps gingerly.
"You become more brittle as you get old. But it’s all a state of mind - I’m trying to have a young attitude. There's still nobody can dance like me," she says defiantly.
Several of her nine songs on Say you Will are equally venerable. In 2001, when she was about to go on tour with her last solo album, she handed over a collection of 17 demos to Buckingham, Fleetwood and John McVie. "I went back through my vaults of tunes and picked all the ones I really liked but which for one reason or another had never seen the light of day," she recounts.
Her colleagues picked five of them for the new album including "Goodbye Baby" and "Smile At You", written in 1975-76 and which "could easily have ended up on Rumours", according to Nicks.
While she was away on tour, the "power trio" of Fleetwood, john McVie and Buckingham rented a house in Bel Air, installed Buckingham's home studio and worked on the songs. "When I came back off tour I was happy with what they'd done. but I listened and I said, "This isn't going to be good unless we have some new material."
In December 2001 she went back home for Christmas to the house she has kept in Phoenix for more than 20 years. A month later, she returned to LA with four new songs. "I was totally nervous," she recalls. " I knew they wouldn't like the songs. Your self-esteem plummets and you feel you're the worst songwriter in the world. But I played them and they flipped out."
One of them, "Illume", was inspired by 9/11, after Nicks had flown into New York the night before and found herself stranded in the stricken city. "Lindsey had tears in his eyes," she recalls. "He put his hand on my knee and said 'How do you do this?'"
In the absence of Christine McVie's sisterly support, Nicks recruited bosom friend Sheryl Crow to guest on two of the new songs, "Silver Girl" and the title track.
"I penned "Silver Girl" about Sheryl," she says. "It's an ode to a lady rock star who's always on the road and has a very hard time having relationships and settling down. So it's also totally about me."
Although she admits she couldn't give up the lifestyle the band has afforded her, Nicks can't conceal a certain bitterness based on her conviction that being in Fleetwood Mac has forced her to make huge sacrifices in other areas of her life.
"Being a female rock star is great and it's fabulous and you make lots of money. But it makes it very hard to do anything else. As a woman you give up part of yourself in a band," she laments. It's not so much self-pity. Simply a statement of fact. "Every relationship I've ever had, great or small, and whether I was going out with a rock star or a lawyer, has been destroyed by the business."
Yet, in many ways Say You Will is primarily Lindsey Buckingham's album. "The focus was led completely by Lindsey," Fleetwood confirms. "Even on Stevie's songs, because she was out on tour, she handed the reins to Lindsey, which was a very trusting thing. None of this would have happened without him."
Most of Buckingham's nine compositions were originally destined for a solo album he began recording in the mid-90's. "Then we met at Christine's house six years ago and everybody intervened and said to me 'You've got to stop your solo album and help get the band together and do this tour.'"
Having been 'guilted', as he puts it, into the 1997 reunion, his intention was to return to his solo record. “But Mick was playing on my solo stuff. John was playing bass on it. Even Christine was on it on a limited basis. So to all intents and purposes it was Fleetwood Mac doing a Lindsey Buckingham album. Nobody said, 'We've got to make this a Fleetwood Mac LP'. It just grew into that. In the end, all we had to do with my material was for Stevie to add her vocals and it was a Fleetwood Mac record."
Fleetwood confirms that, when he began recording with Buckingham again, it was not in his agenda to get the band back together. "I thought I was going to spend three weeks doing overdubs on Lindsey's album. My whole thing is Fleetwood Mac forever. But I prefaced my renewed relationship with Lindsey by saying, 'You know I want Fleetwood Mac back together. But I don't want you thinking that's why I'm here.' But it went so well that it was Lindsey who said maybe we could turn this into a Fleetwood Mac record."
Even without Christine McVie's songwriting, between them Buckingham and Nicks had so many songs that, at one point, Say You Will was going to be a double album. "I thought it would be an intriguing thing for a band to return with something that had such ambition. We even got into sequencing it as a double," Buckingham says.
"Eventually we pulled back on that for issues of pricing and so on. But we kept the core and from my point of view it's the best work we've ever done in terms of the execution and sophistication. Which I guess is appropriate for a bunch of people who are all in their fifties now."
The 1997 tour and accompanying live album, The Dance, were "as good a job as we could do in going out and restating our body of work," he says. "But for me, this is the beginning of a whole other thing because it's new songs."
With Nicks out on her solo tour, Buckingham particularly enjoyed working in an all-male environment. "There was a lot of bonding between the three of us and it was a good place to start building a reconfigured dynamic between us. It was very difficult for me for years to have to work with Stevie when I didn't want to be around her. And it was always hard for John to rise to his higher self around Christine. There was never a sense that we were in any way crippled without Chris because we've made a record that's at least as potent."
Nicks, meanwhile, seems genuinely pleased that Buckingham's restless spirit appears finally to have found musical and personal satisfaction. "Hopefully this record will give him back a sense of purpose and delight. He's in a way better space now and it's wonderful for me to see that. I care about him and his life and what he does and if he's happy. I so want him to be ok. This record is his baby and I really think he's gone and done that great thing he always wanted to do."
WHEN MICK FLEETWOOD RANG Lindsey Buckingham on New Year’s Eve, 1974, and invited him to join Fleetwood Mac, the move seemed born of desperation.
Recently relocated to L.A., the band’s star had waned since the glory days of Peter Green, and when guitarist, singer and composer Bob Welch had abruptly left what was the group’s ninth line-up in eight years, the future looked bleak indeed - particularly as Heroes Are Hard To Fine, the band’s final album with Welch, had barely sold enough copies “to pay Warner Brothers’ electric light bill”, as Fleetwood puts it.
Across town, prospects for the Buckingham-Nicks duo looked equally unpromising. Born into a wealthy San Francisco family in October 1947, Lindsey Buckingham fell early under the influence of Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore and folk groups such as The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul And Mary. He taught himself guitar (he still doesn’t read music) and by 1968 found himself playing bass in a local Bay Area band called Fritz.
Buckingham in turn recommended to them a young singer called Stevie Nicks. Although she had grown up in Phoenix, Arizona, Nicks (born in May 1948) had first met Buckingham when she transferred to high school in San Francisco in 1966. Their ‘dream team’ introduction appeared to make their subsequent relationship inevitable. Buckingham had been playing “California Dreaming” at a party and Nicks simply started singing with him. Two years later, when Fritz needed a singer, she was the first person he called.
Although they opened for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, a record deal failed to materialise, and it eventually became obvious they were going nowhere fast. By 1971, Fritz had split, and Buckingham and Nicks - by now lovers as well as musical soul-mates - moved to LA. A record deal with Polydor resulted in the 1973 album Buckingham Nicks. But with no real marketing or promotion, it died a death. Nicks was reduced to waitressing at Clementine’s, a Beverly Hills singles bar, for $1.50 an hour, while Buckingham did a few sessions and lived on her money.
“I believe that Lindsey shouldn’t have to work, that he should just lay on the floor and practise his guitar and become more brilliant every day,” Nicks explains. “And as I watched him become more brilliant every day, I felt very gratified. I was totally devoted to making it happen for him. And when you really feel that way about somebody, it’s very easy to take your own personality and quiet it way down.”
But by late 1974, Nicks was “within weeks” of returning to her parents’ home in Phoenix, and contemplating a return to college.
“If we hadn’t joined Fleetwood Mac would Lindsey and I have carried on and made it?” she asks today. “I was really tired of having no money and being a waitress. It’s very possible that I would have gone back to school and Lindsey would have gone back to San Francisco.”
Mick Fleetwood, meanwhile, was searching for a new guitarist to replace the departed Welch, when he ran across Buckingham Nicks at Sound City Studios. He was impressed by the song “Frozen Love” from their Polydor album. But Fleetwood Mac already had a female singer in Christine McVie, so his initial invitation was merely to the guitarist.
“He was standing there grooving to this searing guitar solo and he needed a guitar player. That was as far as his thinking went. I had to explain we came as a duo. Stupid me, eh?” Buckingham jokes today.
Fleetwood was so convinced that Buckingham was his man that he swiftly agreed to take them both - although he promised Christine McVie that she had a veto if she disliked Nicks.
Initially, the guitarist had reservations about submerging hi musical personality in an already established band--particularly as he had not been a fan of the Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac. Nicks swiftly reassured him.
“I said, ‘We can always quit. They’re going to pay us $200 each a week, so we can save some money and leave in six months with a little nest egg if it doesn’t work’” she recalls today.
The ‘audition’ took place over dinner in a Mexican restaurant in LA. Christine McVie immediately took to the new girl, declaring Nicks to be “a bright, very humorous, very direct, tough little thing.” The 10th, and most enduring, of Fleetwood Mac’s multiple line-ups was in place. yet it was not necessarily the most stable.
WHAT BUCKINGHAM AND NICKS had failed to reveal to their new colleagues was that, although they came as a team, their relationship was already falling apart at the seams. “Lindsey and I were in total chaos a year before we met Fleetwood Mac,” Nicks tells Uncut almost 30 years on. “I had already moved out of our apartment a couple of times and then had to move back in because I couldn’t afford it. Our relationship was already in dire straits. But if we’d broken up within the first six months of Fleetwood Mac there would have been no record and we would have been in big trouble, so when we joined the band we took the decision to hang in there.”
Within three weeks of the Mexican restaurant meeting, Fleetwood Mac were in Sound City Studios in LA. The Buckingham-Nicks teaming brought a pile of songs with them and the difference they made to the sound was immei8dately evident.
Best of all was Nicks’ “Rhiannon”, a dreamy, bewitching song with an insistent guitar motif from Buckingham that swiftly came to define the new Fleetwood Mac. Not far behind were Nicks’ “Crystal” and “Landslide”, rescued and reworked from the duo’s Polydor album. Buckingham contributed “Monday Morning and “I’m So Afraid”, while they collaborated on “World Turning”.
Christine McVie also appeared inspired by the arrival of the newcomers, and contributed two of her most enduring compositions in “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head”, as well as “Warm Ways” and “Sugar Daddy”.
The album was finished inside three months - astonishingly fast given the years they would spend labouring over future releases. Upon completion, the band repaired to Hawaii for vacation.
When Fleetwood Mac was released in July 1975, its success was initially modest. But the band toured relentlessly. “There were no limousines and Christine slept on top of the amps in the back of the truck,” Nicks recalls. “We just played everywhere and we sold that record. We kicked that album in the ass.”
In September 1976, 15 months after its release, the album topped the US charts, having also produced three hit singles in “Over My Head”, “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me”.
By then, Fleetwood Mac had already been back at work for six months, recording the follow-up at the Record Plant in Sausalito, a half-hour drive over the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco. But during the relentless touring of the previous year, the cracks in the Buckingham-Nicks relationship had grown to a volcanic fissure, and the McVies were also in the middle of divorce proceedings.
The ever-affable and gregarious Fleetwood attempted to hold the ring, adding the roles of guidance counselor and social worker to that of band leader. “Everybody was pretty weirded out,” Christine McVie told Cameron Crowe in a landmark 1977 Rolling Stone cover story. “But somehow Mick was there, the figurehead - ‘We must carry on, let’s be mature about this, sort it out.’”
It was a typically brave attitude, for the drummer had problems of his own, with his marriage to Jenny Boyd disintegrating.
“By the time we got to Rumours, the emotional rollercoaster was in full motion and we were all in a ditch. Everybody knew everything about everybody and I was definitely piggy-in-the-middle,” Fleetwood recalls. “But my best friend was also having an affair with my wife and it was all weird and twisted. It was a total mess and that’s how we made the album.”
Fleetwood concedes that he had just one consolation denied to the other couples. “At least I was spared the in-house, up-front situation. I didn’t have to actually work with my ex-spouse.”
While it was left to Fleetwood to console a very unhappy John McVie, the two women, who might so easily have been rivals, developed a mutual support society.
“We’re totally different, at complete opposite ends of the personality spectrum,” Christine McVie told me in Detroit during the 1997 reunion tour. “The one thing we had in common, which bound us together, was a sense of humour through all the pain.”
Later on, neither were short of female company as hairdressers, wardrobe mistresses and make-up artists were added to the extravagant Fleetwood Mac touring circus. But initially they were two women alone in a man’s world.
“We didn’t have anybody else,” Nicks says. “We had to end up being close because otherwise it was just hang out with the guys all the time. And because there was this chaos going on with me and Lindsey, the band gave me a friend in this woman and I could hang out with Christine.”
WHEN THEY HAD FIRST ARRIVED in San Francisco at the beginning of the year-long process that was the recording of Rumours, the Record Plant provided a house for the band’s living accommodation. Nicks and Christine McVie spent only one night under the same roof as the band’s male members. “That house was like the riot house,” Nicks tells Uncut. “There were girls everywhere and everybody was completely drunk the whole time. Me and Chris decided we couldn’t be there. The next day we moved out and got two matching apartments next to each other.”
Some nights after they had left the studio, a stone John McVie would come looking for Christine. “He’d be walking up and down the corridor, very upset, screaming her name, and she’d be hiding in my room,” Nicks recalls. The inside sleeve of Rumours symbolically shows Stevie and Christine embracing while the fatherly Fleetwood looks on.
Christine Perfect and John McVie first met at a Fleetwood Mac gig one night in early 1968. At the time, she admits she was more interested in Peter Green. “But John asked me if I wanted a drink and we sat down and had a few laughs before they went on stage. Then after the concert he came over and said, ‘Shall I take you out to dinner some time?’ I went, ‘Whoa, I thought you were engaged or something.’ He said, ‘Nah, it’s all over.’ I thought he was devastatingly attractive but it never occurred to me to look at him.”
They went out for short time, before John disappeared off on Fleetwood Mac’s first US tour. “By this time I was really crazy about him,” Christine recalls. “But I didn’t really know what was happening with him.”
She, in turn, went off to Germany with Birmingham blues band Chicken Shack, for whom she was the keyboardist/vocalist, and had a fling with “a crazy German DJ” who asked her to marry him. She turned him down and instead wrote John a long letter explaining her feelings for him.
When Fleetwood Mac returned from America, McVie proposed. They were married 10 days later and Christine announced in Melody maker that she was retiring to become a housewife. She soon tired of washing the dishes and, a few months later, in August 1970, she took the fateful decision to join her old man in Fleetwood Mac following Peter Green’s departure.
“We were very happy for three years and then the strain of me being in the same band started to take its toll,” she says. “When you’re in the same band as somebody, you’re seeing them 24 hours a day and you start to see an awful lot of the bad side. There’s a lot of drinking and John is not the most pleasant of people when he’s drunk. Very belligerent. I was seeing more Hyde than Jekyll.”
Christine had already embarked on an affair with the band’s sound engineer, Martin Birch, in 1973. At the same time, the band’s guitarist, Bob Weston, was having an affair with Fleetwood’s wife Jenny. This complex web of relationships almost split the band, before Weston was sacked and the McVies agreed to give it another chance. But this merely delayed the inevitable, and they broke up for good in the middle of the band’s 1975 US tour.
“I was aware of it being irresponsible,” Christine admitted to Cameron Crowe two years later. “But I had to do it for my sanity. It was either that or me ending up in a lunatic asylum. I still worry for him, more than I would ever dare tell him. I still have a lot of love for John. Let’s face it, as far as I’m concerned, it was him that stopped me loving him.
He constantly tested what limits of endurance I would go to. He just went one step too far. I f he knew that I cared and worried so much about him, I think he’s play on it.”
John McVie later wondered if their problems might not have happened if his wife hadn’t joined the band. But by the time they went into the studio to record Rumours, they weren’t speaking to each other.
“We literally didn’t talk, other than to say, ‘What key is this song in?’” Christine recalled. “We were as cold as ice to each other because John found it easier that way.”
A devastated John McVie began drinking and drugging more and more heavily.
“There’s no doubt about the fact that he hasn’t really been a happy man since I left him,” Christine said in 1977. “Sure, I could make him happy tomorrow and say, ‘Yeah, John, I’ll come back to you.’ Than I would be miserable. I’m not that unselfish.”
EVEN 20 YEARS LATER, McVie still appeared to be carrying a torch for her. One night during the 1997 tour we all got drunk together in the hotel bar after a gig and he decided to address the entire room on the subject.
“She’s a lovely, lovely lady, my ex-wife, even though she told me to **** off,” he bellowed at bemused fellow guests before he struggled to his feet and knocked over an entire table of drinks.
When sober, he is more philosophical. “You’ve got the pressure of being on the road and living with each other and seeing each other at their worst,” he told me the morning after the night before. “Chris saw me at my worst one time too many. I drink too much and when I’ve drunk too9 much, a personality comes out. It’s not very pleasant to be around. And bless her heart, Chris said, ‘I don’t want to be around this person.’ It was awful. You’re told by someone you adore and love that they don’t want you in their life any more.”
To make matters worse for McVie, his wife had taken up with the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant, whose presence around the band caused intense friction. “Wherever John was, he couldn’t be,” recalls Christine. “There were some very delicate moments.”
John, meanwhile, took what comfort he could from the groupies back at the band house provided by the Record Plant, and describe by Fleetwood as “like a bordello with blacked-out rooms, thick shag carpets, deprivation tanks and a very liberal sprinkling of assorted drugs.”
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were at least talking -- or, rather, ranting and raving at each other. At one point, the highly-strung Buckingham thought of quitting.
“In the middle of it all, one day Lindsey said, ‘I don’t know whether I can handle this.’ He was not a happy camper,” recalls Mick Fleetwood. “I have him a pep talk, saying, ‘This whole thing is a compromise. That’s what a band is about. But if it’s an unhealthy one for you, then you don’t have to be here.’ From then on he was really focused on making the record.”
For Nicks, there were no second thoughts. “Really, each one of us was too proud and way too stubborn to walk away from it,” she recalls. “I wasn’t going to leave. Lindsey wasn’t going to leave. What would we have done -- sat around in LA and tried to start new bands? It was just ‘grit your teeth and bear it.’”
There were also problems between Buckingham and John McVie, the two jilted partners who found no comfort in each other’s company, as their womenfolk had done.
“I came in as the new kid on the block but I was also the kid with ideas and so John and I used to butt heads quite a bit,” Buckingham recalls. “It took me a long time to appreciate his approach.”
On one occasion, McVie hurled a glass of vodka in the guitarist’s face. “About the only people in the band who haven’t had an affair are me and Lindsey,” he later grimly joked.
Instead of quitting, Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie began writing songs to each other, like pages from their respective diaries. You had to feel rather sorry for John. As Mick Fleetwood observes, “They were all talking to each other in songs and, because he doesn’t sing, he couldn’t talk back.”
For Nicks, Buckingham wrote the album’s opener, “Second Hand News” ("One thing I think you should know/I ain’t gonna miss you when you go”). Nicks responded immediately with “Dreams” ("Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom”).
Then Buckingham takes up the conversation again. First in “Never Going Back Again” (“Been down one time, been down two times, I’m never going back again”). Then even more forcefully in “Go Your Own Way” (“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do”), before Nicks responds once more with “I Don’t Want to Know” (“I don’t want to stand between you and love, honey, I just want you to feel fine”).
For John McVie, Christine penned “Don’t Stop”, a warm-hearted but still painful message to him that he would one day begin to feel better. However, he must have been less than thrilled to play bass on “You Make Loving Fun”, written by his estranged wife for the new man in her life, Curry Grant. She wrote “Oh Daddy” for Mick Fleetwood, separated from Jenny Boyd, the mother of his two children. “The Chain”, credited to the entire band, was apparently about all of them and the tangled web they had woven.
The album closes prophetically with Nicks’ cocaine anthem “Gold Dust Woman”. “At the time, everybody around me was doing it,” she says. “Lindsey and I wonder if we hadn’t moved to LA w2ould we ever have got into drugs? Drug-taking was methodical when we got to LA. It was, ‘Here, try this.’ Everybody was so willing to give you stuff and tell you you’d like it. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ was about how we all love the ritual of it, the little bottle, the diamond-studded spoons, the fabulous velvet bags. For me, it fitted right into the incense and candles and that stuff. And I really imagined that it could overtake everything, never thinking in a million years that it would overtake me.”
According to Buckingham, the drugs went with the territory. “It was anything goes and if you were making records you had to function on a certain level and we all did our share. It was music through chemistry.”
And although the drugs may have slowed down the process of recording, they played their part in heightening the band’s creativity.
“We weren’t just singing to each other but screaming and everything was enlarged by the intake of illegal substances,” Christine McVie admitted to me over a bottle of red wine in her hotel suite one night during the 1997 reunion tour.
Nicks -- although she is today militantly anti-drugs and threatens to shop anyone around the band who she catches-concedes the point: “We were in the worst shape. But it was helping us make the best music.”
Throughout the Rumours sessions, a black velvet bag of cocaine held pride of place under the mixing desk. Every so often, one or other member of the band would demand another hit. One day, engineer Ken Caillat substituted a dummy bag full of talcum powder. When it was next called for, he tipped the bag upside down and emptied the contents all over the floor. McVie and Fleetwood were about to kill him when the laughter of producer Richard Dashut, seated alongside Caillat, made them realise they’d been hoaxed.
But such lighter moments were few and far between. It took a year to make the album - “the most intense year of my life”, Lindsey Buckingham would later claim. “Trauma,” said Christine McVie. “Trau-ma.”
Yet even when they thought they’d finished the drama wasn’t over. Having spent a year making the album, the master tapes had been dragged across the machine heads a thousand times. In those pre-digital days, this had led to a marked degradation of the sound quality, particularly at the upper end of the register, and the band had to go back into the studio in LA to redub.
Initially, the group appeared oblivious to the power of what they had gone and done. Buckingham wasn’t convinced that they had a hit on their hands at all.
“I was worried that side two had no continuity,” he says. “I thought we’d done the best we could but the album was trailing off and lacked that extra song we needed. I really wasn’t aware of the compelling drama it had and I remember certain people being very negative about Rumours. We’re all so insecure and I really didn’t know.”
Christine McVie, at least in part, concurred in 1997 when she told this writer: “It was John who suggested the title Rumours because we were all writing journals and diaries about each other,” she says. “But we didn’t quite realise that until all the songs were strung together. Then we knew we had something pretty powerful, to a point that transcended everybody’s misery and depression. I think we knew that if we’d all been getting on like a house on fire, the songs wouldn’t have been nearly as good.”
INDEED. HAS melodic MOR soft-rock ever surged with such emotional discharge and human electricity? Has such a highly polished veneer ever been so dramatically juxtaposed with such a scalding cauldron of simmering tensions and seething passions? Buckingham recalls them all sitting in the same booth, harmonising on each other’s songs and looking into each other’s eyes with emotions raging uncontrollably.
“You can look at Rumours and say, ‘Well, the album is bright and it’s clean and it’s sunny,’” Buckingham says. “But everything underneath is so dark and murky. Wheat was going on between us created a resonance that goes beyond the music itself. You had these dialogues shooting back and forth about what was going down between us and we were chronicling every nuance of it. We had to play the hand out and people found it riveting. It wasn’t a press creation. It was all true and we couldn’t suppress it. The built-ion drama cannot be underplayed as a springboard to that album’s success.”
Nicks puts it even more succinctly. “If you took out all the bad stuff in the band, the songs wouldn’t have happened. There simply wouldn’t have been a Rumours if everything had been fabulous.”
But if it seems miraculous that they managed to stay intact and functioning during the recording of the album, once Rumours started flying, the group found itself bound together by a force far stronger than any emotional dysfunction. Commerce.
“The band was at the pinnacle of its career and we had a responsibility not to break that up for anything as trivial as a divorce,” as Christine was later to joke.
Released in February 1977, Rumours topped the US album charts for six months. It was punk’s ‘year zero’. But that didn’t prevent Rumours topping the charts in Britain, where it remained in the Top 100 for the next eight years. The record sold 10 million in its first year and at its height in America was going platinum (one million sales) every 30 days.
Rumours also produced four US Top 10 singles in “Dreams”, “You Make Loving Fun”, “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop”, and the album ultimately went on to sell 25 million copies.
Upon its release, Fleetwood Mac embarked on an eight-month US tour that became a debauched, cocaine-and-champagne-fuelled odyssey across the continent, which cemented the band’s legendary reputation for excess. And the heady cocktail of success, drugs and more money than they knew how to spend left little space for reflection or time to slow down.
Christine McVie bought Anthony Newley’s old mansion in Coldwater Canyon and promptly installed her own English pub and a sculpture studio (in her youth she had briefly attended Birmingham Art College). Outside were parked a pair of matching Mercedes-Benz cars with license plates named after her pair of lhasa apsos. She also dumped lighting director Curry Grant for Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who she claimed “awakened things in me I’d been scared to experience and made me feel the extremes of every emotion”.
Fleetwood bought a cliff-top house in Malibu and a fleet of vintage sports cars. Buckingham--who seemed the least impressed by the trappings of celebrity and money--bought a fine LA home which he shared with Rumours producer Richard Dashut, while John McVie divided his time between a 41-foot schooner moored at Marina del Rey and a home in Beverly Hills.
Nicks purchased a large, mock-Tudor home above Sunset Boulevard, referred to as “Fantasy Land”, and a home in Phoenix, which is still her base. None of the band was reticent about flashing their cash. But she bought into the rich-and-famous lifestyle more enthusiastically than anyone, having been taught to spend money, she claims, during her affair with the notoriously ostentatious Don Henley.
“He was responsible and I blame him every day. The Eagles had it down,” she tells Uncut. “They had the Lear jets and the presidential suites long before we did and so I learnt from the best. And once you learn to live like that, there’s no going back. It’s like, ‘Get me a Lear jet. I need to go to LA. I don’t care if it costs $15,000. I need to go now.’”
Nicks also embarked on a relationship with Mick Fleetwood that further jeopardised the band’s already fragile stability. “Never in a million years could you have told me that would happen. That was the biggest surprise. But Mick is definitely one of my great, great loves,” she was still claiming years later. “But that really wasn’t good for anybody. Everybody was angry, because Mick was married to a wonderful girl and had two wonderful children. I was horrified. I loved these people. I loved his family. So it couldn’t possibly work out. And it didn’t. I just couldn’t.”
In an even more bizarre relationship, on January 29, 1983, Nicks married Kim Anderson, the widower of a school friend, Robyn (the subject of her song “Gypsy”), who suffered from leukemia, and who died three days after giving birth by Caesarean section to a baby boy called Matthew. Within five months, Nicks had become stepmother to the child by marrying the father.
The rest of the band were appalled, and Christine McVie admits she even refused to buy the couple a wedding present. Their misgivings were well-directed. Within eight months the couple were divorced.
Touring for Fleetwood Mac by now meant private jets and all manner of preposterous demands. Hotels would be told to paint rooms pink and install grand pianos. White, like the one on the cover of Imagine, of course. If they couldn’t be manoeuvred through the door, they had to be winched through the windows.
SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDST of the madness, the group managed to record further albums. Following Rumours was never going to be easy and the double album Tusk, released in November 1979, met with distinctly mixed reactions. Again it took over a year to record and cost a million dollars - an unprecedented amount of money at the time. The album boldly mixed radio-friendly pop songs from Nicks and Christine McVie with more experimental and non-commercial pieces from Buckingham, who dominated the sessions and was adamant the band show more ambition than merely recording ‘Rumours Part II’.
“Coming off an album as successful as that, we were being asked to get on this treadmill of cliched thought and hash out the same thing again,” recalls Buckingham. “Punk and new wave had kicked in during the meantime and, although I wasn’t directly influenced by that music, it gave me a kick in the pants in terms of having the courage to try to shake things up a little bit. I wanted something that had a little more depth.”
Many of the 20 tracks on the album were prepared by Buckingham, working alone at home. “That got me to more esoteric placed than I could go in a group situation. Then I’d take the songs back to the studio, and having the band build on it was the basic premise for much of Tusk,” he recalls.
The title track employed a 112-piece marching band. And the excess was equally gargantuan on a non-musical level. “Recording Tusk was quite absurd,” Christine McVie later admitted. “The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a telephone directory. Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of champagne. And it had to be the best, with no thought of what it cost. Stupid. Really stupid. Somebody once said that with the money we spent on champagne on one night, they could have made an entire album. And it’s probably true.”
Tusk failed to replicate the numbers Rumours had done and although it rose to No. 2 in Britain, it only made No. 18 in the far more lucrative US market. Ultimately, it went on to sell eight million copies. Impressive for a double album, but in comparison to 25 million, a relative failure.
Other band members were not slow to point the finger at Buckingham. “The rest of the band had a cynical view towards the way Tusk was made and the reasons why I thought it was important to move into new territory,” the guitarist recalls. “It wasn’t just negativity. There was open hostility. Then I got a certain amount of flak because it didn’t sell as many as Rumours. Mick would say to me, ‘Well, you went too far, you blew it.’ That hurt. And so it’s gratifying now to hear Mick tell anyone who asks that it’s his favourite Fleetwood Mac album.”
Indeed, the drummer had expressed this very opinion to me just an hour earlier, although he also added that he still feels it would have been better “condensed” into a single disc.
The initially disappointing sales of Tusk were boosted by a mammoth 113-date world tour, on which every date was recorded for a live album. Meant to be a ‘cheap’ option after the million dollars blown on Tusk, with typical excess, Live, released in November 1980, was eventually assembled from taping over 400 live shows.
When a battle-weary Fleetwood Mac ended the Tusk tour at the Hollywood Bowl in late 1980, they were physically and mentally drained and barely able to stand the sight of each other.
“I used to go on stage and drink a bottle of Dom Perignon, and drink one off stage afterwards,” Christine McVie later recalled. “It’s not the kind of party I’d like to go t now. There was a lot of booze being drunk and there was blood floating around in the alcohol, which doesn’t make for a stable environment.”
The band was put on hold as members recharged their depleted batteries. Nicks, Buckingham and Fleetwood all made solo albums. But when only the former was successful, accountants and record company executives were soon agitating for another Fleetwood Mac album, and the band reconvened to make Mirage. Released in 1982, it was an unsatisfactory album that lacked either the raw emotion of Rumours or the runaway ambition which Buckingham had injected into Tusk. It sounded like a record made for the sole and cynical purpose of sustaining the Fleetwood Mac brand.
“The most disappointing thing to me after Tusk was the politics in the band,” Buckingham admits today. “They said, ‘We’re not going to do that again.’ I felt dead in the water from that. On Mirage, I was treading water, saying, ‘Okay, whatever,’ and taking a passive role. For me, none of the albums after Tusk quite had it. I think we lost something after that.”
Christine McVie has no doubt what it was they had mislaid. “Mirage was an attempt to get back into the flow that Rumours had. But we missed the vital ingredient. That was the passion,” she confesses bluntly.
IT WOULD BE FIVE MORE years before the band would release another album--and, being Fleetwood Mac, there was plenty more trauma in the intervening years. For Fleetwood, they were the beginning of the ‘lost’ years, which stretched on into the ‘90s.
“I wasn’t quite Keith Moon but I was working hard on getting there,” he says today. Along the way he went bankrupt and was relieved of his duties as band manager. Much of his money went up his nose on drugs, although he insists even more was lost on property deals that went wrong.
“It was a wild trip that didn’t stop for nine years,” he recalls. “I tried very hard to leave the planet and I nearly did. I don’t want to romanticise something that’s extremely dangerous. It was fun, but it was a bloody nightmare and I would never do it again. It became boring and sordid.”
But the real casualty was the far more fragile figure of Nicks, whose cocaine addiction was escalating desperately out of control. Her use had begun as much as a way of coping as a means of getting high. “I’d never felt so tired in my life,” she recalls. “When I joined the band, the rock’n’roll life was a shock to my system. It’s so intense and so heavy and being in Fleetwood Mac was like being in the Army. I was doing a lot of drugs just to get me through to the next thing. I don’t remember how much we did. But we spent an awful lot of money on it.”
Although the coke worked for a while, there was a high price to pay. “We never stopped, never took vacations. And with coke you can stay up way too late. You don’t sleep for three days,” she recalls today. “But then it backfired. That’s what I tell people. and the payback is a bitch. Nobody should go through what I went through. It’s not even that good. There was a little bit of fun. But it wasn’t fun enough to destroy your life. It creeps me out to talk about it even now.”
By 1986, she had hit rock bottom and checked into the Betty Ford Clinic, where Nicks shared a spartan cubicle with an elderly alcoholic woman. Tammy Wynette was a fellow patient.
“I knew I was going to die and I didn’t want to die. So I was on my way,” she tells Uncut. “I did my 28 days and I came out and I was brilliant. I was as strong as an ox and I felt great. I cold feel myself starting to glow again and I was totally excited about my life. When I walked through those doors at Betty Ford and they searched me and took away all my stuff, it was like, ‘OK I’m never doing THAT again because I’m never coming back to a place like this.’”
She was true to her word. “I haven’t even seen cocaine since 1986. Nobody would ever take it out in front of me because they know I would call the police,” she says. Yet although she didn’t know it at the time, there was worse to come. Nobody around her believed she could stay clean and her friends collectively intervened to persuade her to visit a psychiatrist. Fatefully - and almost fatally - he prescribed a tranquilliser called Klonopin.
Nicks is still angry to this day about what happened. “I agreed to see this psychiatrist to make everybody happy,” she says. “But if I had made a wrong turn and got lost and not arrived at that psychiatrist’s office that day, the destiny of my life would have been so changed.”
Her account of the addiction which ensued is salutary and frightening. “He gave me two little blue pills. One at morning and one at night. Within a couple of months that turned into four little blue pills. Then it became 15 blue pills. He kept increasing my dose. I was in there every two weeks for an hour and he watched me grow heavier and the light went out in my eyes. If I started to run out, I would start to shake so hard people would stare at me. I thought I had Parkinson’s disease. I was sick and high and miserable and overweight. I knew I was going to die.”
Finally, on day in the early ‘90s, she realised she could not go on. “I called up my manager and said come and get me and take me to a hospital because I’m not going to be alive in two weeks.”
She spent 47 days in the Daniel Freeman hospital in Marina del Rey and kicking a prescription tranquilliser proved far more unpleasant than kicking her cocaine habit. “My hair turned grey. My skin peeled off. I couldn’t sleep. I had a terrible headache. My body felt like it was burning,” she recalls She cannot help an involuntary shudder as she tells the story.
Nicks survived. But she is understandably bitter.
“These psychiatrists and the medical community are the worst drug dealers in the world,” she says. “These drugs will make you fat, ruin your life, make you miserable and destroy anything you want to do. And nobody tells you that.”
The blow that Klonopin dealt to Fleetwood Mac was also almost fatal. By the time the band reconvened to record 1987’s Tango In The Night, Nicks had already been addicted to the tranquilliser for a year and was in no fit state to make a record.
With Fleetwood’s drug abuse also rendering him largely hors de combat, it was left to Lindsey Buckingham to pull the album together. “We had to rise to the occasion,” he recalls today. “It was a very difficult record to make. Half the time Mick was falling asleep. We spent a year on the record but we only saw Stevie for a few weeks. I had to pull performances out of words and lines and make parts that sounded like her that weren’t her.”
Buckingham concedes that Nicks was “the most challenging to deal with”. But he excludes nobody from his strictures. “Everyone was at their worst, including myself. We’d made the progression from what could be seen as an acceptable or excusable amount of drug use to a situation where we had all hit the wall. I think of it as our darkest period.”
With Nicks managing just two songs and Christine McVie three, Buckingham valiantly contributed six compositions and was required, with some reluctance, to give up songs such as “Big Love”, “Caroline” and “Family Man”, all of which had already been completed for his projected third solo album. If he had not done so, he recognised there simply wouldn’t have been an album.
“The rest of us were totally devoid of any focus,” Fleetwood admits.
Thanks to Buckingham’s gargantuan efforts, the result was a more than acceptable return to form, the greatest adversity yet again brining the best out of Fleetwood Mac. Yet there’s no doubt that Buckingham was deeply distressed by the whole experience, and particularly disturbed by the condition of his former girlfriend.
“The way people were conducting their lives made it difficult to get serious work done. Mick was pretty nuts then. We all were. In terms of substance abuse, that was the worst it got,” he recalls. “And Stevie was the worst she’s ever been. I didn’t recognise her. She wasn’t the person I had once known.”
All of this directly contributed to the showdown in August 1987 when Buckingham walked out of the band, seemingly for good. “When I was done with the record, I said, ‘Oh my God. That was the worst recording experience of my life.’ And compared to making an album, in my experience, going on the road will multiply the craziness by times five. I just wasn’t up for that. I needed to pull out of the machine and try to maintain a level of integrity for the work that wasn’t about the scale or the sales.”
TO REPLACE BUCKINGHAM, the band recruited not one but two guitarists in Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. The new six-piece line-up recorded 1990’s forgettable Behind the Mask before Nicks and McVie also left. Doggedly, the rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie - who retain legal ownership of the band name - vowed to soldier on. The resulting album, 1995’s Time - with Bekka Bramlett, daughter of Delaney and Bonnie, and former Traffic man Dave Mason added to the line-up - was even less satisfying.
Yet the flame of the Rumours line-up refused to die. After Bill Clinton had adopted “Don’t Stop” as his presidential campaign song in 1992, Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie all rejoined Fleetwood and John McVie to perform at the new President’s inaugural ball. Five years later, on the 20th anniversary of Rumours, cam a reunion tour and The Dance, a live album culled from an MTV special.
Although Christine McVie didn’t enjoy the touring rigmarole and announced that she had come to the end of the road, the rest of the band found that time had proved a great healer.
“Just the fact that we’d survived gave us something in common,” Buckingham says.
“Looking back, it’s like listening to war stories,” Mick Fleetwood jokes. “But you have to remember there were people yelling in pain with their legs shot away. There’s blood and guts and disagreements still to this day. But that’s what makes it mean a shit.”
This article is based on original interview by the author with Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in February 2003 and also draws on original interviews with Fleetwood, Nicks, Buckingham John McVie and Christine McVie conducted in Detroit and Indianapolis in October 1997. Previously published sources consulted include Fleetwood Mac - The First Thirty Years by Bob Brunning, My 25 Years In Fleetwood Mac by Mick Fleetwood and a variety of magazine and newspaper interviews and articles, dating from 1977 to the present day.
Tasty box of All-Sorts from mainstream monsters of yesteryear
by Barney Hoskyns
Say You Will
* * * *
MORE THAN MOST BANDS, FLEETWOOD MAC evince complex, unresolved feelings. On the one hand they're the ultimate mainstream soft-rock dinosaur, past masters of glossy emotions and overcooked arrangements. On the other hand...
On the other hand what, exactly? It's not like Fleetwood Mac are Abba - So Uncool They're Cool. But nor have Fleetwood Mac ever been So Cool They're Uncool...if you know what I mean. So what are they, and why does a goodly percentage of their music stand up after decades? I guess because a) witchy woman Stevie Nicks has the voice of a petulant siren: b) studio geek Lindsey Buckingham still wants to be Brian Wilson: and c) Fleetwood Mac were and are truly a band for boys and girls. Good things all.
So here they come again, in a post-post-punk, hip hop-dominated universe, keen to make meaningful music. And there's a historical parallel here: just as 1979's 'brave, of-the-wall' double album Tusk followed 1977's stratosphere-busting Rumours, so the almost-double CD Say You Will follows the play-safe 'live greatest hits' thing that was 1997's The Dance.
The funny thing is that Tusk, when you revisit it, doesn't sound off the wall at all. Which makes Say You Will all the more out-there as mainstream rock product. Next to Tusk, indeed, this 18-track opus is a box of All-Sorts replete with countless different colours and moods.
As one would expect, there's a slew of those Stevie Nicks songs that are essentially narcissistic hymns to, well, Stevie Nicks. One of them is called "Silver Girl", no less. Another "Illume", is a bongo-driven meditation on life post 9/11 and boasts the priceless line, "I am a cliff dweller from the old school". Gotta love the woman: on the closing "Goodbye Baby" she sounds like Kate Bush spliced with Victoria Williams
Then there are Lindsey's songs, some of which date back to the solo 'project' that should have come out after his 1992 opus Out Of The Cradle. What makes Say You Will really great are Lindsey tracks like "Red Rover", "Come" and "Say Goodbye". The heady melodicism and hyper-syncopation of "Rover" are intoxicating. The shimmering "Say Goodbye" - all dappled guitars and whispered vocals - suggests Lindsey has been listening to modern-day troubadours like Elliot Smith.
The album peaks somewhere in the middle, with "Rover" followed by the effortlessly shiny Steviepop of the title track and then by first single "Peacekeeper", a true Buck/Nicks joint effort. Both pack killer choruses, as insidiously sweet-sad as vintage Mac classics from "Silver Springs" to "Gypsy". Nicks' "Running Through The Garden" is early-80's hippie power pop, with a layered keyboard hook and chugging noo wave guitar.
For the obvious reasons the only flavour missing on Say You Will is the departed Christine's perfect Tango in The Night bop-pop, making the album more Buckingham- Nicks Redux than anything else. (You can hear Chrissie, though, on the moody, thumping "Murrow".) That's OK, because there's so much here to get one's teeth into.
Tusk this isn't, but Tusk it doesn't need to be. In an age of off-the-shelf Linda Perry pop, the Mac keep the mainstream interesting. Say you'll give it a spin.
Uncut Magazine, May 2003
Return of the Mac
Thanks to Pip and Les for posting this to the Ledge.
This article may
be found at: